In yet another victory for the marriage equality movement, a U.S. federal appeals court in New York ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, just months after another federal appeals court in Boston made a similar ruling. The Reverend J. Manny Santiago of University Baptist Church in Seattle hailed the decision recently in a Washington Post article, arguing how DOMA discriminates not only against sexual minorities, but also against churches which perform weddings for same-sex couples. Many of our ordained pastors will agree with the points he makes.
The decision was made by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, 18 October in a Manhattan courtroom. The lawsuit began when Edith Windsor, an 83 year-old lesbian, sued the federal government for charging her more than $363,000 in estate taxes after the government denied her spousal benefit deductions. Ultimately the court determined that the law’s denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Most legal experts believe that the decisions are symbolic, and that the case will go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Santiago points out in his article that a significant factor in the court’s decision was the unconstitutionality of stripping citizens of their rights. When the majority seek to strip a minority of their rights through popular vote, “the US government, with its system of checks and balances, has the means to protect those whose rights have been taken from them,” and that “[t]his is one of the many reasons why state initiatives to deny others their rights – in this case, the right to marry – are bound to fail at the end.” Most Universal Life Church ministers will agree that it is fundamentally unfair and illogical to allow a popular majority to vote on the rights of the minority, whose personal lives are no business of the majority.
In addition, Santiago reminds the reader how court decisions affirming marriage equality protect the rights of both religious groups and sexual minorities. He notes at least two ways in which such rulings protect religious freedom: They uphold “the right of every individual to exercise their religion as they see fit,” but they also serve as “clear examples of the freedoms and liberties religious organizations have in the United States.” This sort of compromise aligns closely with the principles of ordained pastors in the ULC: while it protects minority rights, it also protects personal religious conscience.
Perhaps the least obvious point Santiago makes is that DOMA also discriminates against churches on religious grounds. “What DOMA does is to prevent loving, committed couples from enjoying the protections that millions of other families have,” he writes, adding that the law “attempts to prevent thousands of clergy around the nation from providing the same pastoral care to all of our parishioners.” Anti-equality groups routinely complain that pro-equality rulings will impinge on religious freedom, but in fact, as Santiago shows, DOMA discriminates against people who get ordained to perform weddings for same-sex couples.
The Universal Life Church Monastery is happy to see more men and women of the cloth stand up for their sacerdotal right to perform weddings according to their religious principles and to have these rights recognized by the state as legally equal. Laws like DOMA discriminate against pastors and the people they marry, but the rulings of the First and Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals protect the rights of everybody. With any luck, the Supreme Court will agree.